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Guest author: Peter Grünenfelder, Director Avenir Suisse
With the pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, calls for an internal retreat are increasingly heard. However, a move away from cosmopolitanism and a halt to its integration into the global economy would be fatal for Switzerland. Democracy, the rule of law and international law call for clear positions.
Don't close Switzerland's door to the world
The world had only a short breather after the pandemic crisis, at the end of February Russian troops invaded Ukraine. It almost seems that all rigours come from the outside, and these can only be effectively countered by retreating into oneself. When the coronavirus started its rapid spread, bi-national couples were banned from contact for weeks by order of the authorities, and radical forces blamed globalisation for the pandemic as if global trade had been responsible for the spread of the coronavirus. The decoupling of the domestic economy from international value chains is still a maxim in left-wing circles.
And in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which is accompanied by the most severe violations of international law, observers of contemporary issues are predicting the end of economic openness. Right-wing conservative circles even want to prevent the adoption of sanctions called by the international community against warlike regimes by popular initiative. The myth is celebrated that our country is successful only thanks to its sovereignty and neutrality. Neutrality should be used as the general yardstick for federal politics, and externally there shouldn't be any coordinated action with friendly Western countries. Left-wing and right-wing conservative thinking patterns have one thing in common: they underestimate the actual degree of integration of Switzerland into Europe and the world – and often loudly oppose it.
In view of the disruptive global situation, which calls into question previous thought patterns and habits, there's a need for threefold action for our country.
Firstly, in terms of security policy, Switzerland increasingly needs more transnational cooperation. Even if our country isn't geographically affected by what is happening in Ukraine, Switzerland is benefiting massively from NATO’s protective shield and the EU’s joint security policy efforts. It is much more likely that a conventional conflict will affect Europe as a collective within the context of a joint defence effort than that Switzerland would have to defend itself alone. This is just one reason why better coordination with NATO’s collective defence structures is justified. A stronger commitment to security policy at an international level would make Switzerland a more reliable foreign policy partner. Those who argue against increased transnational security cooperation with reference to “good services” negate the fact that these have long ceased to be a unique feature of Swiss foreign policy. The first direct meeting between the Ukrainian and Russian foreign ministers took place under Turkish patronage in Antalya (and not in Geneva as hoped by the FDFA).
Secondly, Switzerland shouldn't stop its economic integration into the European and global economy, but rather continue to press ahead with its commitment to a legally secure multilateral order. Our country is considered to be the “globalisation champion,” not least thanks to the chemical, pharmaceutical and life sciences industries. Before the outbreak of the pandemic, Switzerland had a foreign trade ratio of 96%, an impressive increase of 15% compared to 2002. Over the course of 17 years, this increase in economic prosperity generated almost 150% in additional income from the federal taxes of legal entities. Around two million employees here in Switzerland benefit directly from access to foreign markets. The international diversification of the Swiss economy in terms of both procurement and sales strengthens the resilience of individual companies as well as the economy as a whole.
But instead of courageously committing to the continuation of close economic cooperation with the EU countries and other important foreign trade partners, the Federal parliament is suffering from a decision jam. No efforts are made to stop the deterioration of the diverse economic and research relationships with our most important partner, the EU, as is transparently demonstrated by the Erosion Monitor regularly published by Avenir Suisse. And when it comes to concluding new free trade agreements that would give Swiss companies competitive advantages, no progress is made past the point of exploratory talks.
At the same time, attempts are under way to further close the door to the world by introducing investment controls. But Federal Berne must open this door more widely again. After all, the trade in goods and services with foreign countries, and especially the European countries, is too important for Swiss prosperity. And it's precisely this prosperity that contributes significantly to social cohesion – at least more than the legends surrounding William Tell.
Thirdly, Switzerland should increase its commitment to democracy. But the credible advocacy of democracy, the rule of law and international law also means showing our colours when injustice occurs. It's sometimes necessary to take up a clear position. Commitment to more democracy around the world is definitely worthwhile: greater civilian and economic freedoms lead to greater prosperity. Globally, the per capita GDP of countries under democratic rule is 275% of that for autocracies. An internal retreat and the call for re-nationalisation would therefore lead Switzerland astray, not only in terms of security policy, but also in economic and democratic terms.